The government of Spain will be forced to reimburse fines to all citizens who were penalized for skipping restrictions imposed last year during the state of alarm decreed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is due to the recent decision of the Constitutional Court, the highest interpreter of the Spanish Constitution, to declare illegal the states of alarm decreed by the Government in March and October 2020, as well as the extension of the second one.
A year-long state of alarm
In March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic had just been formally decreed, Spain became one of the first countries to establish strong quarantines and restrictions throughout the national territory and imposed fines against citizens who dared to break them.
The decree, which was initially issued for a duration of 15 days, forced all citizens to remain indoors and prevented any kind of interaction in public and private spaces.
In addition, the mandate allowed state security forces to “carry out checks” on people, goods, vehicles, premises, and establishments as they deemed necessary, as well as to prevent the performance of services and activities they considered to be high-risk.
The restrictions limited freedom of movement and allowed temporary requisitions of the private property of Spaniards. The Spanish government closed restaurants, schools, public and private companies, closed sporting events and prohibited religious manifestations (including funeral ceremonies), and even wanted to close the Congress.
The state of alarm in March was extended a total of six times, and the fifteen days established in the first decree turned into four months of intense nationwide quarantines. The measure ended on June 21.
Four months later, between October 9 and 24, the government established a new state of alarm that only covered some municipalities of the Autonomous Community of Madrid.
On October 25, as soon as the restriction in Madrid ended, the government decreed a second national state of alarm. Although it entailed less strict restrictions, it severely limited freedom of movement and established a schedule of free transit.
The second state of alarm was supposed to end in November but, once again, the government extended it at the last minute, this time for a period of 6 months. It finally ended on May 9 of this year.
In other words, the Spanish government, led by the socialist Pedro Sánchez, kept Spaniards in a complex state of alarm for more than a year, with exceptional powers for the authorities.
A victory for Vox
In April 2020, after the first extension to the state of alarm, the 52 deputies of the conservative Vox party filed an appeal before the Constitutional Court, arguing that the decree entailed restrictions of certain freedoms that were not provided for in the Constitution and that other suspensions dictated by the Spanish Government would only have been possible in the formula of a state of exception.
“No matter how serious the situation to be faced, it must always be dealt with within the Constitution and in accordance with it, and not with a clear violation of its supremacy and of the most elementary fundamental rights of citizens, as in this case. In the state of alarm, the Government cannot do just anything, but must stick to the measures allowed for such state by the block of constitutionality”, stated Vox in its appeal.
Then, in November last year, Vox appealed before the Constitutional Court in the midst of the second state of alarm and its extension decreed that month.
In July of this year, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Vox regarding the first state of alarm and declared it unconstitutional since it went beyond the limits of restricting the freedoms of Spaniards.
Finally, the Constitutional Court upheld Vox’s latest appeal and also declared the second state of alarm unconstitutional on Wednesday.
This decision is the third blow against Sanchez’s legal strategy to manage the health crisis generated by the pandemic since the high court also declared that the suspension of parliamentary activity was illegal.
In this regard, Vox spokesman in the national Congress, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, said that the three aforementioned rulings of the Constitutional Court should be sufficient reason to demand the “en bloc resignation” of Pedro Sánchez and his ministers.
“Pedro Sanchez and his gang of enemies of Spain kidnapped Spaniards for six months in an unconstitutional manner in a flagrant violation of their rights,” Espinosa said.
Vox president Santiago Abascal issued a tweet claiming that his party “is the alternative” by citing its legal victories against the Socialist government.
Sánchez’s Minister of Justice, Socialist Pilar Llop, declared on Wednesday that the Government respects and abides by, although she does not share it, the Constitutional Court ruling declaring the second state of alarm illegal and took for granted that the sanctions imposed under that umbrella will be returned.